A profile in success: Irene Bahr
Meet Irene Bahr. A founding member and first chair of the Standing Committee on Women & the Law, Irene was recently elected secretary of the ISBA. Last year, Irene served as treasurer and was a candidate for third vice president.
Irene grew up on the southeast side of Chicago in the Irondale neighborhood and lived in the Chicago Housing Authority townhouses until she was in college. She shared a room with two sisters, and all ten members of her family shared one bathroom. Her father was a Chicago firefighter, and her mother, who came from Ireland at the age of nineteen, worked as a crossing guard after raising eight kids.
At Saints Peter and Paul High School in South Chicago, Irene was active in theater, dance, and a folk singing group. She also worked part-time. In fact, Irene worked her way through college, graduate school, and law school. Irene attended the University of Illinois, at the Circle (now known as UIC), where she majored in secondary education and sociology. After deciding that teaching was not her calling, Irene attended graduate school in sociology for one-and-a-half years and then went to DePaul Law School (class of 1977), where she was very active in the women's law caucus.
Irene clerked for the Illinois Attorney General during law school, which she says was a good background for practicing law. She had opportunities to observe and participate--as a "711" student--in state and federal courts and administrative hearings.
In her first job after law school, Irene worked as the attorney for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. As the only attorney, she had no one to "teach her the ropes," but she had an opportunity to have a lot of input into the agency. For support, Irene says that she called her friends at the Attorney General's office and conferred often with Jewel Klein, counsel to the Racing Commission. At that time, Irene says that most of the people in the industry were male --the commissioners as well as the attorneys--but they gave her a lot of authority. Furthermore, she had the opportunity to develop contacts all over the United States and even overseas.
After ten years, Irene left to set up her own practice, representing people seeking liquor licenses, such as retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, as well as state and local liquor commissions. Her work involves litigation of contract disputes, defense of retailers accused of selling to minors, running houses of prostitution, or even sexual assault, and negotiations with suppliers. Irene has had several appeals before the appellate court, involving commercial free speech.
Because her law practice does not provide much opportunity to do pro bono work, Irene utilizes her bar association involvements as a way to give something back. Besides, Irene says, she likes lawyers and chooses to spend time with them and work on their behalf. In addition to her work for the ISBA, Irene is a past president of the DuPage Women Lawyers and was personally involved in establishing the children's room in the DuPage County courts.
Praising her parents, Irene says that they never told her that she could not do things because she was a girl. Rather, they told her to work for what she wanted and to value her education.
Irene includes among her mentors several men from the Illinois Attorney General's Office; her husband who went to law school before her; her colleagues at the Women's Bar Association of Illinois, where peers mentored each other; and Robert Anderson, a judge in DuPage County.
Irene reports that she never had to make sacrifices because of her career. She did not wait to marry and had children when she wanted. Her husband is supportive of her career, and her practice allows her the flexibility she needs with young children. She feels that she has been fortunate to be able to have day care in her home. In addition, Irene's mother is willing to help with the kids when there is a scheduling problem.
According to Irene, everyone has to make choices, but it's not a sacrifice if you get what you want. She has had family support, loving relatives, understanding bosses, a good education, and a good career. Irene sees herself as lucky.
Irene's secrets to success are hard work and flexibility. She emphasizes you do not have to be the smartest, but you do have to work hard and be flexible to deal with whatever comes your way.
Finally, Irene wants to encourage women to seek involvement in the ISBA. She believes that many committees need more women, and she invites any woman who does not get appointed to a particular committee to contact her. Irene is a member of the Board of Governors and invites all members to call her about problems or concerns.